Autism program grows to help many people


Carol Wagner Leader Correspondent

Contributed Photo Bridge The Gap is an organization that helps adults and children with autism and special needs. Recently the teens did all the preparation for a dinner at the Hartland Town Hall. From left, front row, Brandon Novitski, Brady Jones, Beth Montour, James Barkow, Lesley Laluzerne, Salix Dobbs, and Penny Ferguson; back row, Lucas Schmechel and Brandon Hull.

Bridge The Gap is a nonprofit that helps adults and children in the autism spectrum and has grown to include people with special needs. The center is located in Shawano but covers Shawano, Brown, Oconto, Menominee, Outagamie and Waupaca counties.

“There’s a need in this community,” said Lesley Laluzerne, president and center director.

People from four to 48 go to the center either directed by a doctor, friends, family, and some through the internet. Six school districts send students to them.

“We fit the program around the person’s needs,” Laluzerne said. “We don’t try to fit them into a program. We’re really unique. We teach them that having autism is just part of them.”

Earlier this year, the teens made food for a restaurant-type setting where they planned the meal, bought the groceries, prepared the meal, and served it at Hartland Town Hall.

“Everything we do they can be involved in and learn skills to do it,” Laluzerne said. “They can do anything other kids can do, they have to be taught correctly.”

Beth Montour is a program assistant whose daughter, McKenna, has autism. Currently a sophomore, she has come to the center for two years.

“I saw the progress she made in six months and the time she has been here,” Montour said. “I wanted to help out as much as I could.”

Montour writes grants for the program where they get much of their funding along with donations from businesses and private parties, and many fundraisers

The main center is in Shawano, but Bridge the Gap fundraisers in the other counties like the bow shoot in Oconto County, and motorcycle rides, dunk tank and mud volleyball in Brown County. There is a walk/run at Shawano Community Middle School and a Doc’s Day for Autism at Doc’s Harley Davidson with games and raffles in September.

On Dec. 9, Bridge The Gap will have its first Holiday Cookie Stroll at the Community Room at City Hall in Shawano. Children and adults will be making the cookies.

“They have their hands involved in each and every aspect,” Montour said.

Laluzerne started Bridge The Gap several years ago and said it has been her dream to have the Community Outreach Center on East Green Bay Street. They occupy two suites in the building and would really like to have a third adjoining one which is not occupied where there is a kitchen and a backdoor for a playground. The only thing in the way is the cost which would have to be donated.

“I would love to get a year’s rent,” Laluzerne said.

There are four therapists, an office manager, and two volunteers. Currently 72 people use the services.

The center is open Monday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

For information, call 715-526-3791, fax 715-526-5536, or email